Depression and low mood

Anxiety, panic attacks, obsessions and hallucinations

For some people, depression can be accompanied by anxiety and for some the symptoms of anxiety maybe more severe than those of their depression. Depression and anxiety can also be associated with feelings of panic and the experience of panic attacks, as well as obsessions or obsessive behaviour. Some people with depression can also experience hallucinations although this is rarer.

Anxiety and panic attacks

Many of the young people we spoke with experienced anxiety and for several, it was inseparable from depression. Young people described the experience of anxiety as a “loss of control”, being “frightened”, continuous “worrying” and “stress”, “panic”, “racing mind”, “overanalysing” and inability to function. Anxiety could also manifest itself in various ways. For many, an anxiety or panic attack caused them to hyperventilate, to feel dizzy, faint and sick and some people passed out. A few people also described sensory changes, for example not being able to see clearly or hear properly during an acute anxiety attack. One woman described an anxiety attack as; “(It’s) like an electromagnetic field of like suddenly I cannot function”.
 
Having an anxiety attack could be a scary experience and a couple of young people said they’d thought they were “going mad” or “losing their mind”. Some also described an intense sense that they were going to die.
Young people described experiencing anxiety and panic attacks from as often as 5-6 times a day to a couple of times a month. Some experienced low levels of anxiety, which one man described as “toned down anxiety” which they’d learnt to manage or cope with over time. In the long term, anxiety made young people feel “exhausted” and “drained”. Constant worrying, overanalysing and stress took up a lot of energy and a couple of them said that “The more you try fight it, the worse it gets”. Many people also said anxiety had knocked down their confidence and self esteem. One woman said:
 
“It [anxiety] makes me angry because I feel like a failure. I feel like I shouldn’t let the anxiety consume me and that I should be able to get through it, especially after all the support I’ve been given.”
At worst, anxiety could become “debilitating” or include phobias.

A few young people also talked about the experience of phobias. This wasn’t necessarily linked to depression. For a couple of people, anxiety symptoms included the development of social phobias about social situations or meeting people, or agoraphobia; the fear of leaving the house or being in public places. One person also described her intense phobia of particular objects.
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For some, anxiety was more of a continual underlying stressful and unpleasant state of mind whereas others were able to distinguish particular triggers which caused them to have panic attacks. These triggers included for example particular people or contexts, feeling under pressure or extreme stress. A couple of people said their attacks just came “out of the blue” or that literally “anything” could set one off.
Some young people had sought help for anxiety. Medication, such as particular antidepressants or beta blockers had helped some, and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) had been really helpful for many. A few said they’d just tried to “ignore” the problem or said they tried to cover up their anxiety and hide or lie about the attacks as they found them “embarrassing” or felt social pressure to always be happy.

Obsessions

Several young people described different obsessions they had and a couple said they had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Young people described obsessions with patterns and order, checking and organising, cleaning and hygiene, eating and calorie counting and fear of infections or germs. One woman said;

“My obsessions….it’s not like I have a constant one, it becomes this new thing of you know every couple of months that, it just depends…”
Some people had had these obsessions from an early age, others said for them obsessions had become a coping strategy or a way to “control” their low moods and depression. A couple pointed out that for them, an obsessive mindset had also proved beneficial in situations where they were required to intensively focus on one thing, such as school work or, for one man, intense long term physiotherapy. One young man said, about feeling obsessive over his school work during GCSEs; “I welcomed being generally anal with everything”.
 
Young people agreed that there was little understanding or awareness about obsessions and OCD and in school they had been labelled as “rebelling” or misbehaving because of their obsessive behaviour.
 
Hallucinations
 
Hallucinations are rare in ‘straightforward’ depression but some of the people we spoke with had experienced hallucinations, either “hearing voices” or seeing “imaginary friends” or other visual perceptions. For some, these experiences had again started when they were young while for others, the voices appeared during their childhood or teenage years.

In the main, hearing voices was an unpleasant experience for young people as the voices were often negative; making “snide” comments, ridiculing and putting them down. Hence, for some, hearing voices contributed to paranoia and a sense that other people were talking about them or that others were “against” them. Some people said that there was really no way to control the voices, just ways to “manage” them, learn to “ignore” them or live with them. One of the things people said they could do was to distract themselves, by listening to music or focusing intensely something else.

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed December 2013.

Last updated December 2011.

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